As a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I am directly involved with the defense authorization process and the blueprint it provides for the future vitality of our troops. In recent days, the committee has heard from various defense officials about President Obama's proposed changes to funding and force structure, including several that affect Mississippi. Our state plays a crucial role in supporting America's national defense, and I remain committed to seeing that this tradition of excellence continues.
A major concern with President Obama's latest budget is the impact it could have on the preparedness of America's service members. Military readiness is a top priority for the Armed Services Committee, which is tasked each year with assessing the President's budget requests before a defense authorization bill is finalized.
Meridian Part of the Fight Against Drug Trafficking
In a recent hearing, I was encouraged to hear Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau, express his support for the Guard's counterdrug training centers. President Obama's Fiscal Year 2015 budget eliminates funding for this program, despite the proven value that these schools provide in the fight against drug trafficking.
This value is certainly true at Naval Air Station Meridian, which is home to the Regional Counterdrug Training Academy -- one of five such schools in the country. Feedback from state officials and academy graduates on the quality of training there has been incredibly positive. As Gen. Grass noted, counterdrug training centers have successfully trained more than 600,000 law enforcement agents since they were established over two decades ago. He agreed that the program's funding should be continued by Congress given its many contributions to public safety and national security.
Keesler Offers State-of-the-Art Facility for C-130Js
Another issue I have brought to the committee's attention is the future of the C-130J transport planes at Keesler Air Force Base, which the Air Force plans to move to Little Rock, Arkansas.
The Air Force has tried to transfer 10 of the C-130Js, which are used for tactical airlift missions, from Keesler three times in the past two years, although the reasons for the decision have yet to be adequately explained. Not only would the relocation cause disruptions for personnel and their families but there are also serious doubts it would actually produce the financial savings the Air Force projects.
Keesler is a state-of-the-art base that taxpayers have spent millions of dollars to equip with modern hangars and facilities. Last year, it was recognized as the top Air Force installation in the country, receiving the Commander-in-Chief's Installation Excellence award. It offers a well-equipped spot for the C-130Js, which should remain there permanently. As I have made clear to Air Force officials, I am willing to work with them to achieve overall savings, but answers are still needed about the cost-effectiveness of a transfer from Keesler.
Mississippi's Cadets Carry on Service Tradition
There are plenty of reasons why our state is recognized for its contributions to America's military might -- in particular, the proud tradition of service exemplified by generations of Mississippians. In February, I was reminded of this enduring legacy while visiting with cadets from our state at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York.
These young leaders should never doubt that they will have the high-quality training and resources they need to execute their missions. As a new defense authorization bill is crafted, we must do our part to ensure that current and future service members comprise the best-trained, best-led fighting force in the world.